Sunday, July 10, 2011

How universal is music?

I started work on my master's a few weeks ago (summer session moves at twice the pace of the regular semesters, hence the drought in blog postings). Right now I'm working on a paper on the influence of the Protestant Reformation on music, and vice versa.

One of the key reforms Luther made was to reintroduce congregational singing. He felt very strongly that musical participation should be a part of everyone's worship life and Christian education.

I think music and religion have gone together for as long as either has been a part of the human experience. Music was certainly a huge part of my Mormon upbringing and still plays a major role in my spirituality.

I've been singing and have had an ear for pitch as long as I can remember. Singing time is a part of Sunday School for Mormon kids every week. I remember even as a four or five-year-old hearing one of the teachers singing off key and wondering, Why is she doing that? Couldn't she hear the difference? Another time, we had a lesson about talents and we were supposed to list all of our talents. My teacher asked why I didn't list singing. I didn't list it because I didn't think it was a talent; it was so easy, I thought everyone could do it.

Musical inclination is something I was just born with. I've worked and practiced to develop it further, but it's also just an irremovable part of who I am. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say I would have given up on religion and spirituality altogether years ago if it weren't for music.

But I wonder, how much would music matter to me if I weren't musically inclined myself? Would I still be as moved by it as I am? 

At church, everyone is supposed to sing, regardless of how "good" they are at it. How helpful or moving or powerful is singing for someone who may not necessarily like to sing?

This is a genuine question. I'll try to draw a comparison. I appreciate visual art, but I'm not very artistically inclined myself. I can certainly be emotionally and spiritually moved by other people's works of art, but if someone asked me to draw my own picture in praise of God or the sacred or whatever, first of all, you'd have a really ugly picture, and second, I really don't think I'd get much out of it.

So all of you who can't keep a beat or carry a tune, what does music mean to you, particularly in your spiritual life?


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